Congresswoman, a breast cancer survivor, urges national campaign

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 23, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Two days after she disclosed her fight with cancer, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz launched into advocacy Monday, championing legislation that calls for greater awareness of breast cancer among younger women.

At a news conference at the Capitol, Wasserman Schultz introduced a bill that would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a national campaign to boost awareness among women younger than 40, including encouraging early detection.

"It is my hope that by sharing my story, we will pass the (bill) and further reduce the death rate of young women diagnosed with breast cancer," said Wasserman Schultz, who's 42. "We have to ensure that every young woman can rely on more than just luck."

Wasserman Schultz — who juggled seven surgeries last year with her job as a congresswoman and high-ranking Democrat — struggled at times to keep her composure as she talked about the bill, tearing up as she thanked her husband and family for their support.

Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois, who's one of just two members of Congress who were privy to Wasserman Schultz's diagnosis — a longtime friend, Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., was the other — called the Florida Democrat an inspiration to others who are working through an illness. She noted that Wasserman Schultz never dropped her fighting spirit. The two, who share a Capitol Hill townhome, for a time backed different Democratic presidential contenders.

"We'd still argue over all the primary stuff," Bean said. "You just never saw her pause."

The Democrat whom Wasserman Schultz originally backed, Sen. Hillary Clinton, called the congresswoman Monday to tell her she was thinking of her.

"We had the most awesome conversation," Wasserman Schultz said. "She said, 'Thanks for everything you've done for me,' but I thanked her. I was so happy to be out there during the year, for her presidential campaign and President Obama's campaign. Having so many balls in the air helped me not to dwell on myself."

Wasserman Schultz — who appeared on "Good Morning America" to talk about her bill Monday after revealing her illness to McClatchy over the weekend — also insisted that the effort not revolve around her.

Rep. Sue Myrick, a North Carolina Republican and breast cancer survivor, is co-sponsoring the legislation in the House of Representatives. Its Senate sponsor is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

"Breast cancer is often more aggressive in younger women, and it's critical that doctors and patients know what to look for," Myrick, who was unable to attend the news conference, said in a statement. "When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was fortunate to have caught it early. I'm hopeful that, with the help of this kind of awareness effort, more women will have the same opportunity."

Dubbed the Early Act, the bill calls on the CDC to develop a national educational campaign to help young women and providers identify their risks and know the warning signs of breast cancer. Although the incidence of breast cancer is lower in young women than in older ones, it's generally more aggressive in younger women.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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